WASHINGTON—Presidents generally get who they want in their Cabinets, and Donald Trump is likely to have a smooth time in the Senate with most of his picks as well, even as reaction to his choice of Rex Tillerson for secretary of State could run into problems over his relationship with Russia.
The Constitution gives the Senate a major role in advising the president on his Cabinet picks and other nominations such as Supreme Court justices.
Republicans control the Senate and Democrats can’t filibuster Cabinet picks anymore, thanks to new rules Democrats themselves established in 2013 when they were in the majority.
Still, senators take their constitutional “advice and consent” role on presidential nominations seriously, so Trump’s picks can count on lengthy hearings at least. A rundown on the process:
Though Trump has named several Cabinet picks, his choices haven’t formally been nominated yet and can’t be until he takes office on Jan. 20. But public notice gives Senate committees the opportunity to gather information and hold hearings on the nominees-to-be.
Senate committees with jurisdiction over Cabinet departments hold hearings on the president’s picks. The most important should get hearings in early January—before Trump is sworn in. After noon on January 20—once the paperwork is official—committees can vote to place nominees before the full Senate. Sometimes when a committee does not support a nominee, it will advance it to the floor anyway.
Traditionally, several of the most important Cabinet posts—such as defense and attorney general—are confirmed on the very first day, often by unanimous voice vote. But any individual senator can demand a vote or require Republicans to spend time debating a nominee, and controversial picks like Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general may take some time. But Democrats can no longer filibuster and force any of Trump’s picks to meet a 60-vote threshold because of a 2013 rules change that lowered the required vote to a simple majority.
A Cabinet nominee has not been rejected since 1989, when the nomination of former Republican Sen. John Tower of Texas for secretary of Defense failed amid allegations about his personal behavior and possible conflicts of interest. Others, however, such as former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, have withdrawn their nominations after running into controversy.